Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nebraska State lawmakers want to resolve horse dilemma - Suggest Native Americans Get Into Horse-Slaughter Business

By ART HOVEY / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Friday, October 2, 2009 1:25 pm | 1 Comment

It's far from the only situation of its kind in the state, but it's a serious one for Fillmore County.

Five of the 35 emaciated horses Sheriff Bill Burgess and his deputies confiscated from property near Shickley in July have died.

County officials already have spent almost $7,500 keeping the rest alive and will need to find a heated building for at least seven of them soon if they expect them to survive chillier temperatures.

Deputy Sheriff Bob Hester, who's supervising the county's care-taking efforts, doesn't like what he's seeing happen to horses there and elsewhere in the state.

In an earlier era, "they helped us to develop and settle this area," he said. "And, unfortunately, animals can't speak for themselves. We have to speak for them and protect them."

Humane treatment was certainly one concern for members of the Legislature's Agriculture Committee Friday as they tried to come up with a solution to the increasing numbers of horses in the state that are falling into the neglected, unwanted and abandoned categories.

But lawmakers are also trying to come to grips with the aftermath of a 2006 federal decision that led to the closing of the last three horse slaughtering plants in the United States and with the emotional debate over whether horses should be treated as livestock or companion animals.

"Death is not inhumane. Starvation and neglect are," Gretna veterinarian Larry Henning said as he testified on behalf of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association and in favor of what he described as "humane transport to slaughter."

That point of view - whether the slaughtering is done in the U.S., Mexico or somewhere else - does not pass muster with the Humane Society of the United States, said Don Wesely, spokesman for its almost 50,000 members in Nebraska.

Wesely, a former state senator and mayor of Lincoln, called horse slaughter "cruel and inhumane" and said, "We should be able to find common ground here short of having to slaughter horses in the state of Nebraska."

Sen. M.L. "Cap" Dierks, a committee member and a veteran veterinarian from Ewing, is heading up efforts to find solutions through an interim study. And, as is often the case, interim studies arise from problems that are too complicated to solve quickly.

As the long-standing U.S. practice of exporting horse meat is stymied by federal lawmakers, Nebraska rendering plants have become overloaded with horses that grow old and die in the pasture instead.

Many plants won't pick up any more carcasses or have begun charging hundreds of dollars to come and get them.

"Right now," said Dierks, "the only place I can take a horse to dispose of him is I take him to the pasture. I dig a hole and I shoot him."

At the same time, the typical cost of caring for one horse for one year can easily add up to $1,900 a year, said Debby Brehm, speaking for Nebraska members of the American Quarter Horse Association.

"Whether or not we want to admit it," Brehm said, "the economy comes into play."

Brehm said her organization does not advocate slaughtering horses, but she described it as "a necessary aspect of the equine industry." She also said "transportation should be allowed to existing facilities."

Ross Garwood, Amelia farmer and spokesman for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, said Nebraska should look at various options to what amounts to a slaughtering ban, including consulting with Native Americans about doing it on tribal land.

Tribes are not subject to federal restrictions, he said, and there is "a potential epidemic of unwanted and abandoned horses."

Back in Fillmore County, Deputy Hester said the 30 surviving horses there appear to be on the mend from what had been "walking skeleton" status. "The thing is they're so depressed that it will take time to get them back up."

Thayer County resident Norman Graves is behind bars in Lincoln as he awaits an Oct. 7 hearing in Geneva on animal cruelty charges.

Reach Art Hovey at 473-7223 or at

Posted in Govt-and-politics on Friday, October 2, 2009 1:25 pm Updated: 6:58 pm. | Tags: Legislature,

Click on title above to see orignal article and place for comments;

No comments: